On a night when SAVE celebrated their annual Champions of Equality, the organization’s executive director also recognized four individuals who aren’t known for LGBT rights or justice.
Instead these men are infamous for allegedly attacking two gay men after the closing festivities of Miami Beach Pride in 2018. The attack went viral and the charges against the four men were enhanced by a hate crime designation. They’ve all pled not guilty and are facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Their cases are still pending.
The four men, all in their early 20s, include Juan Carlos Lopez, Luis M. Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa.
Tony Lima, SAVE’s Executive Director, announced from the stage of the gala the four men were “wrongfully accused” while the crowd ate hor d’oeuvres and applauded.
The Office of the State Attorney pushed back on Lima’s assertion.
“We are aggressively pursuing the prosecution of the case,” said Terry Gonzalez-Chaveza, a spokesperson for the Office, wrote to SFGN in an email. “We believe we have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against them: Aggravated Battery with Prejudice/Weapon or Bodily Harm, Aggravated Battery, Assault with Prejudice/or on Religious Institution Grounds, and Assault. If that were not the case, the charges would have been dropped in the past.”
The alleged attack occurred outside the 6th Street public bathroom in Lummus Park in Miami Beach on April 8, 2018.
The two victims are Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov.
“We were walking and holding hands and needed to use the bathroom,”. So the two of them stopped at public restroom as they headed home for the evening.
As Logunov walked out of the restroom he was allegedly called a “faggot” in Spanish, punched, and then beaten unconscious. Chalarca, quickly intervened, but three more men jumped in and began to attack him as well.
Lima later clarified his remarks saying he believed the young men were “wrongfully accused,” not only of a hate crime, but the attack itself, despite it being caught on video.
Besides just attending the gala on June 14 Lima said the four accused have been volunteering with the LGBT non-profit for the past six months.
Russell Cormican, a well known criminal defense attorney in Broward County, gave some insight into why the men could now be LGBT rights supporters.
“When people are charged with a crime, they sometimes react by getting involved in charitable work. Sometimes they are motivated to do that by a true desire to help others. Other times, they may simply be trying to put their best face forward because they know it may help them with their pending cases,” Cormican said. “I do not know what is motivating the young men in this particular case, but I certainly hope they are sincere in their desire to further LGBT causes.”
Last year during SAVE’s annual Pride brunch in June, the victims of the attack were Lima’s guests of honor.
: “Dmitry Logunov and Rene Charlarca were invited to stand on stage to accept a token of friendship and support from Lima. They voiced their appreciation to the LGBT community in Miami for being so sympathetic.”
“More details have come to light to show that this was not a hate driven crime. Basically they were defending themselves,” Lima said. “We’re supportive of their case moving forward. We support the truth coming to light.”
One of the alleged attackers was raised by two gay men. Last year the gay father spoke out in defense of his son.
Juan Lopez, the father of Juan Carlos Lopez, told NBC6 that his son, along with the others, have never attacked “any gay people.”
“I’m sure 100 percent of that,”, also saying that his son respects “everybody in this community” and that he “loves LGBT.”
The alleged attack though was caught on camera. Additionally a bystander, Helmut Estrada, stepped in to protect the gay couple.
Estrada told media outlets that he did not know the two victims when he rushed to their defense.
after Estrada intervened the four men fled the scene with Estrada chasing after them. They surrounded him, knocking him out. Estrada ended up hitting his head on the concrete as he fell, leaving a pool of blood on the pavement.
Estrada was later awarded a medallion from the City of Miami Beach for his efforts.
“The City of Miami Beach Medallion is a special honor usually reserved for acts of bravery, heroism and other significant contributions to our city,” City Commissioner Michael Gongora told SFGN last year. “Helmut’s selfless act of defense warrants this honor and his stepping up and doing the right thing is even more special since he is straight and helped defend two gay victims from an attack related to their sexuality.”
For now though Lima is sticking by the four accused.
“It’s very easy to jump on a bandwagon when you feel your community is being attacked,” Lima said. “It’s important to look deeper into things when there is a shadow of a doubt.”
But there are no doubts from the Office of the State Attorney.
“The defendants in the case are not wrongly accused,” Gonzalez-Chavez said.
Watch a video of the hate crime
Editor's note: Since this story was published a video was released showing Tony Lima using the word "wrongfully," not "wrongly" as SFGN intially reported. We regret the error.